“Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.” – Jerry McLaughlin, What is a Brand, Anyway? Forbes. December 21, 2011.

What do your prospects think when they hear your name?

Fundraising, much like sales or marketing, is heavily dependent upon other people’s perception of your product—your product being the programming, advocacy, and other community-oriented work that you are putting into the world. Although he might not have realized it in the moment, by making the statement above, McLaughlin isn’t just talking about consumers, he’s also talking about donors.

Your brand (or, what the public thinks of when they hear your name) and your ability to raise funds from that public, are inextricably linked. A prospective donor’s understanding of your values, mission, and work (not to mention what they think of that work) play an enormous role in their decision of whether and how much to donate to your cause.

We have certainly seen in both the for-profit and non-profit arenas how this dependency can work well. Apple, for instance, has an unmistakable brand, both in terms of the mark (the glowing white apple with a bite taken out of it) and the quality that is considered to go behind it. Similarly, there are non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity that have a brand that inspires clarity and confidence—who doesn’t know that the organization recruits volunteers to help build houses for those in need? According to the organization’s most recently published 990, revenue from contributions and grants totaled over $314 million. This is not an organization that struggles to make its brand clear.

The flip side of the coin is that if your organization is having an identity (or brand) crisis, it can become exceedingly difficult to convince prospective donors to make new or increased gifts. An unclear brand, or a brand that doesn’t seem to match the actual work of the organization, can send a signal to the public that you don’t know who you are, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Even worse, an ineffective brand might fail to capture the attention of a potential donor prospect at all.

Furthermore, in the cases where the brand doesn’t effectively tell the story of an organization’s work (or perhaps even tells the story of what the organization used to be, but isn’t anymore), you lose the opportunity to engage potential funders who are interested in the real work that you are doing, but don’t have any way of knowing that you are actually doing it. Who knows how many donor dollars you might be leaving on the table?

The question becomes, if you find yourself in this situation, what can you do about it? Overhauling a logo, tagline, or mission statement is no small task, and generally involves many organizational stakeholders, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the conversation anyway. Great change takes time, but it is almost always worth it. In the meantime, there are things that you can do as a fundraiser to take control of your organization’s perception among donors and donor prospects.

First, be in the know. Be prepared for face to face conversations with donors and prospects about everything and anything that your organization is up to. Human interaction, and the ability to pivot or reframe a conversation in the moment, is the first defense against misunderstanding and miscommunication around your work.

Second, settle on clear and consistent talking points. Develop compelling language to talk about the work that you do, that can be used by everyone on your team and repeated regularly in donor communications.

Third, choose compelling images to represent your organization. You don’t have to rely on your logo to tell your story if you have great photos that can help do that work. Like the talking points, some photos may even be repeated over and over so that they become synonymous in donors’ minds with the programs that you run.

Branding and fundraising are always going to go hand in hand, and we encourage you to work toward fruitful collaborations within your organization so that the two efforts can seamlessly support one another as your organization evolves and grows.